Whoever developed the blueprint for the human shoulder joint didn’t really have stability in mind. Take a look at an anatomical view of the shoulder joint. You’ll likely see something that resembles a softball sitting on a golf tee. For that reason alone, there isn’t much in the area of stability around the joint itself. A similar joint to the shoulder would be the hip, as both are “ball and socket” joints. However, the socket in the hip joint is pretty deep for most people, creating a more stable connection than what we see in the shoulder.
If the shoulder is at such a structural disadvantage, how is it that your arm doesn’t fly off anytime you move it around, let alone unleash a fastball? There’s a group of muscles in the shoulder called the rotator cuff which essentially keep the arm where it’s supposed to be. The problem is that in many people with shoulder issues, this group of muscles is not functioning as intended.
What is the Rotator Cuff?
The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles. They are the infraspinatus, supraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor. You’ll often hear people say they strained or hurt their rotator cuff, but each one of these distinct muscles performs different actions and has a specific role to play.
When all of these muscles are functioning as intended, they work together to stabilize the shoulder and keep it in place. So ideally, the best way to train this group of muscles is to use exercises that challenge that stability. That’s where the Kettlebell Arm Bar comes into play.
How to Perform the Kettlebell Arm Bar
Video demonstration via STACK expert Justin Ochoa.
1. Start on your back with the kettlebell in one arm, pressed toward the ceiling. The other arm should be on the ground overhead.
2. Push with the leg and initiate the movement from the hips to start the rolling pattern. As you get to your side, the kettlebell should stay perpendicular to the ground.
3. Avoid shrugging your shoulder as you roll over.
4. Hold the side lying position for a few seconds or a few breaths, then reverse the movement till you are on your back again.
The Kettlebell Arm Bar is one of those exercises that challenges the true role of the rotator cuff, which is to stabilize the shoulder joint. When we have a stable shoulder, we have a healthy shoulder, and that allows us to do a lot more in the weight room and in life.
You can insert this exercise anywhere within your training when you want to work on shoulder stability. This can include the warm-up or as an active recovery drill between sets of major lifts.
Additionally, you do not need a heavy weight to get the benefits of this exercise. Lighter weights mean you can concentrate on using the muscles as intended, while going heavy can allow compensations to pop up.
Lastly, avoid programming a high number of reps with the Kettlebell Arm Bar. It’s an exercise that has a high fatigue rate, which means that if you exhaust the muscles doing this drill, they may not be fully recovered to engage as intended when performing subsequent heavy compound lifts.
For an added progression, you can flip the kettlebell into a bottoms up position. This will up the degree of control you will need to demonstrate.
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